Dale Yu: Review of Stellar

Stellar

  • Designers: Matt Riddle and Ben Pinchback
  • Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
  • Players: 2
  • Age: 8+
  • Time: ~30 minutes

In Stellar, the two players are astronomers who are competing the see the most beautiful display of celestial objects in the night sky.  Each player has an array of 12 cards which forms a beautiful piece of art depicting a telescope. Players get two start cards; one of which is placed at the top of their telescope pyramid and one which is placed underneath the telescope in the Notebook area.   The rest of the celestial objects cards are shuffled and each player is dealt a hand of 2 cards. A market is set up with the top 5 cards of the deck being dealt beneath the numbered cards which go from 1 to 5.

The game is played over 11 rounds (to completely transform your telescope picture into an array of celestial objects).  Essentially, each turn, you will play 2 cards to your area, one to your telescope and one to your notebook. To do so, you will always follow these same four phases.

1] Add Card to Hand – from the display of five cards, choose any one card and add it to your hand

2] Play Card from Hand – now from the three cards in your had, play a card to either Telescope area or your Notebook area.  Make careful note of the rank of the card you just played. 

3] Play Card from Row – now, take the card from the slot in the row which matches the rank of the card you just played.  If that slot is empty (because you took that card in Phase 1 of this turn), you take mystery meat from the top of the deck.  The card taken here is played in whichever area (Telescope or Notebook) which did NOT get a card in Phase 2.

4] Refill the Row – Refill the one or two empty spots in the market from the top of the deck.  If you took a satellite card from the row this turn, your opponent can choose to have you discard the entire market and deal out a fresh set of 5 cards.

When you play a card to your Telescope; if you already have a card of that type played, this new card must be physically adjacent to at least one card of that type.  If you do not have this type yet, you can play it anywhere. Though the art cards to not show it easily – the telescope is broken up into three areas: Top, Middle and Bottom. This will be important for scoring at the end.  If you are unable to play a card legally, you place your card facedown anywhere in the telescope.

When you play a card to your Notebook; you keep cards arranged by type (color) and you are asked to keep them in numerical order in each stack.  At the end of the game, you could have as many as five stacks, one for each type.

The cards in the game are nice to look at, and each has an interesting astronomy factoid at the bottom.  The actual gameplay bits are in the top corners, with the suit (color) and rank on the left, and the VP value on the right.  There are a few special cards. Each suit has a 6/0 card – this card is always a “6” when in your telescope, but can be either a “6” or “0” when in your notebook; this can be decided at the end of the game when scoring occurs.  There are also Satellite cards which are wild for type; they each have a numerical value, but they can be played for any type. In the telescope area, they can therefore be played anywhere. In the notebook area, they can be played anywhere AND they can be freely moved from stack to stack until the end of the game.

The game ends at the end of the 11th round, both players will have completed their telescope area at this time.  As a final play, each player looks at the two cards left in their hand and chooses one to play to their notebook area – thus playing 12 cards to that area as well.

Scoring then happens – in three areas.

1] Stars x multipliers – for each of the five types, multiply the number of stars seen for that type in the Telescope by the number of cards in your longest run of consecutive numbers in that type in your notebook.  If you have duplicates of a number in your notebook, disregard the duplicates.

2] Sections – for each of the three sections in your Telescope (Top, Middle, Bottom), sum up the number of all the cards in each section; facedown cards are always worth 3.  For each area where a player has more points than the opponent, score 10 points. 

3] Diversity – If you have at least one card of each of the five types in your Telescope, score 10 points.

The player with the most points wins the game. There are no tiebreakers.

My thoughts on the game

Stellar is a really simple 2p game that includes some set collection ideas with a fairly novel method of choosing the second card of each turn.  Honestly, without this wrinkle, there’s not much to the game other than a convoluted scoring system – but with it, there is an interesting decision to be made on most turns, and brings the game up into the above average range for me.

It does take a few games to get the hang of figuring out where to play cards in your telescope to give yourself enough options for later placement.  There are a fair number of things to consider – and the combination of options in scoring leads to multiple options in card playing. It is certainly feasible to try to concentrate on a single type of card; hoping to get a huge multiplier.  However, once your opponent sees this, it’s a fairly easy strategy to thwart. 

The ten point bonus for diversity is nice, but when you only get twelve plays total into your two areas, that means you’re likely making a few plays to only get that bonus; so you have to factor that into account.  Finally, knowing that each region comes with a ten point bonus for having the highest value, trying to win two out of the three of them can also lead to a ten point bonus over your opponent. As I mentioned earlier, I do kinda wish that the telescope cards in each area were better marked; the small index numbers in the corners are color coded to region; but I can see where the overall aesthetic is improved by not making this more obvious.

All of these options should be considered when trying to figure out where to play your card.  Furthermore; having to consider which card you’ll be forced to take from the display based on the first number card played is another complication.  Sometimes, you’ll have to wait on playing your best card now if a lesser option allows you to draw/play a great card from the display.   

The card art is quite nice.  I have a few friends who are amateur backyard astronomers, and they all commented positively on both the art as well as the informational factoids on each card.  It definitely helps add to the overall theme of the game, and makes it mildly educational.

Stellar is a good 2p game, and one that gives you a decent amount of interesting choices to make in the 20-30 minutes it stays on the table.  The scoring is not simple, so this isn’t a game that I’d bring out to play with novices, or at least not without a prolonged example setup to show how things work.  I don’t keep many 2p games around in my collection, mostly due to lack of opportunity to play them, but I will hang on to this one for now as I still enjoy exploring the card playing mechanism central to it.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Stellar

  1. Pingback: Dale Yu: Review of Stellar - Rollandtroll.com

  2. Pingback: Dale Yu: Review of Stellar – Herman Watts

  3. knuffi1964 says:

    Bought! The theme will certainly appeal to Frank…

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